Like a majestic dolphin breaching the icy ceiling of the ocean, leaping high into the air as it fills its lungs with oxygen before returning to the darkness of the deep sea, Horn returns with an EP (or modified LP or whatever we’re calling this shit now) Retrograd. With this EP, Nerrath builds on the brilliant turn that his self-described hyper-masculine black metal that he so brilliantly wove on Turn Am Hang. Included are two interlude tracks focusing heavily on string instruments and, as always, a closing track featuring clean vocals that will make you salivate for new work from Cross Vault.
The two interlude tracks, “Retrograd – Einleitung” and “Bocksfuß – Einleitung,” make it once again difficult to comprehend how Horn is a one-man project. How can one person be so talented at so many instruments while possessing the mental capacity to so beautifully compose such moving passages? And, if that wasn’t complex enough, both interlude tracks carry thematic melodies and vocal elements that replay in the much heavier black metal tracks that they precede. It’s quite a compositional sleight of hand that is truly appreciated on a second or third pass of the twenty-seven minute EP.
As “Bocksfuß – Einleitung” mournfully fades out, a lute (or lyre of some sort) softly humming a melody as a brook babbles away in the background, the electric guitar, nearly bereft of distortion, harmonizing with itself and slick with reverb, picks up the melody effortlessly taking the folk version into the black metal version of the song showing, clearly, the link between classicist music, black metal and German neofolk.
Standing somewhat on it’s own, “Garant” is a track that would have felt at home at any point in Horn’s career. Using a steady, galloping rhythm combined with steely, distorted guitars offset by tinny clean guitars, “Garant” could slide in, and enhance, any of Horn’s previous work. It actually feels most out of place on Retrograd until the rolling, tribal drums take over accompanied by clean guitars. It’s at that point that Nerrath reveals his journey — the blending on his past with his vision on the future — which can only benefit from his increased musical ability that seems to jump leaps and bounds (toward a limitless future) with each release.
It’s an evil disservice to not mention the brilliance of this man’s vocal ability. Across the album he affects multiple uses in both the clean and harsh vocal realms. His harmonies with himself, the higher harmony often being shouted from far away, are warming and enticing, drawing the listener into a mutual understanding even if you don’t speak German. The vocals serve as an emotional torch to follow in the dark, eyes closed, music pouring into your ear canals. And thus it is that we come to the breathtaking final track.
“De Einder” is slow, tribal as much of his work has become, a guitar pedaling on a note in lock-step with drums before a violin (perhaps viola) steps in to lead the melody. As Nerrath is so often inclined, the start-stop rhythms give way to a sorrowful passage, guitars softly bleating over open, slow drumming. Nerrath’s voice enters, in a deep baritone, nearly a bass, full and inclined towards gothic intonation. He’s joined by, of course, himself, harmonizing the guttural German with a soft, pleading tenor. The longest track on the album (barely), at over six-minutes, “De Einder” is a nearly classical, medieval take on black metal, and, because of his skill, Nerrath is able to take that idea out of the thematic arena that most bands get stuck in. He’s able to deliver a sonic version in perfect harmony with his thematic vision. The result is, as was the result on Turn Am Hang, a miraculous work of black metal that remains forward-thinking while remaining inherently anchored to musical history and the folklore of his culture.
It’s beyond exciting to think of what Nerrath could do next. His mastery of the folk instrumentation as well as the black metal instrumentation, and the accompanying arrangement, could take him to whatever height he dreams of. Combine that with his vocal ability and he the sky is the limit. But, it would be nice if he put some effort into Cross Vault for a bit because, with his talent, a lot of people are very interested in where that project could land.